Keeping it All in Perspective

Our job is to teach the students we have. Not the ones we would like to have. Not the ones we used to have. Those we have right now. All of them.

I stumbled upon the above quote on Pinterest a while back. I do not know who Dr. Kevin Maxwell is. Nor do I know in what context he stated these words. All I do know is that these words profoundly impacted my attitude towards teaching, and I haven't been the same since I first read them.

Let me start by saying that I love my job. Teaching is something I've wanted to do since I was a child and every morning I thank God for allowing me to do what I love.

That being said, it hasn't always been easy. As a matter of fact, I think it's safe to say it's never been easy. But there were times in my career when teaching was more challenging than I had ever anticipated.

It was a couple years ago when I found myself crying every night, upset that I couldn't get through a single lesson without "putting out a fire". I won't go into detail, but let's just say I had done a pretty good job handling students who- um, needed a little more guidance and structure than others- therefore I was given a class that truly tested me. It was my fourth time teaching the ICR (inclusion) class, and I started out feeling pretty confident. I had an amazing class the previous year, and I felt like I could handle anything. That year I found out that I was right. I could handle anything. But in handling it the way that I did- I sacrificed too much of myself.

Twenty students. Five with IEPs. Another five that should have had IEPs, but did not. I had a wonderful cooperating teacher that year- who they gave me for a full two and a half hours (spread out throughout the day). LUCKY ME. (I wish there was a font for sarcasm). She really was wonderful (and continues to be wonderful though we don't work together anymore), but the scheduling situation was certainly less than ideal. Having a cooperating teacher with me all day would have helped me meet the very different needs of all my students that year.

I felt like I was drowning that entire year. I felt alone and overwhelmed. Again, I won't go into detail- but I felt that the classroom "situation" was unfair, and begged and pleaded with my principal to change it in order to level the playing field. He would not. I had to deal.

I'm not proud of it, but I'll say it: I did not enjoy teaching that year. I stayed late every day. I worked on things for school throughout the entire weekend, every weekend. I agonized over test scores and obsessed over lesson plans. I never even got a chance to bond with those students. I feel very bad about that.

Looking back- several years later- I realize that I chose to not make an effort to bond with my students despite the challenging circumstances we were in. It was my own fault that I was unhappy. Instead of accepting my situation, and embracing the challenges set forth, I fought against them, resenting them. I felt sorry for myself, complained to anyone who listened. I constantly compared my class to the other first grade classes down the hall- to other classes I'd had in the past. It's no wonder I was so miserable!

Since that year- that year where I questioned whether or not teaching was the right career for me, I've had this intense fear that I will be placed in the same situation again. I've actually had nightmares about it.

But last summer I finally came to the realization that I can't control the issues that my students come to school with- but I can control my attitude and how I approach the situation. Instead of aiming for this idea of a "perfect class", I understood that I should aim to give everything I can to my students to meet their needs- whatever they might be! Every class is different. Each with a new set of challenges. Although some might be more challenging than others, each has something wonderful to offer if you are willing to look for it!

Changing my perspective changed my teaching and the way I run my classroom. Through all the pressure put on us nowadays- standardized tests, common core standards, Danielson-based teacher observation systems, attacks from politicians, constant changes to curriculum, heightened expectations of us and the six-year-olds we work with- I remember why I wanted to start teaching in the first place.

I focus on all the truly wonderful parts! Planning new activities I know my kids will love and learn a lot from, watching the light finally go on for that child who was trying and trying but still having a hard time, getting notes from my kids letting me know how much they love me, having a good, true belly laugh from the hilarious thing one of them said, feeling the tears come into my eyes when listening to one of my students share a beautiful piece of writing filled with their unique voice... THOSE are the kind of things I teach for, the things I live for!  As for the rest? The not so wonderful things? I push them aside. I don't make time for the negativity. There's no room for it in my classroom or my heart.

Teaching is not easy. But it is so worth it.

Do you have any quotes that inspire you? If you do, please share! :)

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